McCain More Radical Than Bush — on Economy

16 09 2008

More Radical Than Bush by Jonathan Cohn
The full horror of John McCain’s economic agenda.
Post Date Wednesday, September 24, 2008

John Goodman is a conservative economist who thinks all the fuss over people without health insurance is just hooey. . . .As the Morning News noted, Goodman had helped craft McCain’s health care plan. In other words, he is a McCain adviser.

Or, at least, he used to be. When Goodman’s quote got the attention of reporters, a McCain spokesman issued a terse statement: “John Goodman is not an adviser to this campaign.” When that position became untenable–it turns out Goodman had identified himself as an adviser not only to the Morning News but also in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, to which the McCain campaign never objected–the official story changed.

Yes, Goodman had offered advice to McCain. But it was on an unpaid, voluntary basis, and McCain had since made clear that Goodman’s input was not necessary. “John McCain could not disagree more strongly with Mr. Goodman,” a spokesman said. “John McCain believes that addressing the problem of the nation’s uninsured is one of our most pressing national priorities.” (Goodman has been traveling and unavailable for comment.)

It wasn’t the first time this campaign season that McCain distanced himself from a conservative adviser over controversial statements. Former Texas senator Phil Gramm, as a top economic adviser, had far more influence than Goodman. Fortune magazine actually called him “McCain’s econ brain.” But, in June, Gramm told a Washington Times reporter that the economy was stronger than most Americans realized.

The real problem, he suggested, was a “mental recession”–that “we have sort of become a nation of whiners.” Again, Gramm was offering a refrain common among conservatives, who think the press constantly dwells on bad economic news. But did McCain believe it, too? This time, McCain himself issued a denial.

“Phil Gramm does not speak for me,” he said. “America is in great difficulty. And we are experiencing enormous challenges.” Soon Gramm was told his services, too, were no longer required.

Goodman and Gramm had, of course, committed political crimes. But, while they were guilty of ill-chosen rhetoric, they had also told the truth. Whatever their actual advisory roles, their statements were perfectly consistent with the thinking behind McCain’s official economic agenda–a mix of supply-side tax cuts and conservative reforms of health care as extreme as any put forth by the Republicans in modern times.

McCain might seem an odd vessel for such radicalism, given his notorious opposition to President Bush’s first round of tax cuts and his reputation for bucking the GOP. But that all happened before he started running for president again. This campaign has shown how McCain intends to strike a balance between corralling his political base and actually governing the country. And it’s not much of a balance. Hard as it may be to believe, after the mounting debt and rising inequality of the Bush era, McCain has indicated he wants to preserve Bush’s conservative legacy on economic policy–and then take it even further.




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